NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Capital Punishment Rates in Death Penalty States

February 15, 2002

The state of Texas has executed more people than any other state in the country, but when it comes to meting out the ultimate sentence, Texans are relatively conservative, says the Dallas Morning News.

A new study by law professors at Columbia University in New York finds that:

  • Texas ranks number 21 out of 34 death-penalty states in death verdicts per 1,000 homicides from 1973 to 1995.
  • More than half of Texas' 254 counties never sentenced anyone to die during that same 22-year period, belying Texas' reputation.
  • Harris County, where Houston is the county seat, has sent more people to death row than any other U.S. county -- but relative to the number of homicides, it ranks behind similarly sized Philadelphia County, Pa., and Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix, in handing out the death sentence.

James Liebman, lead author of the study, said, he knew "there were other states out in front of Texas on use of the death penalty, but Texas came out a little bit further down than we expected."

The study examined capital punishment cases county by county in 34 of the 38 states that use the death penalty. The four excluded states either had not sentenced anyone to death or did not adopt the death penalty until after the study period ended.

Source: Diane Jennings, "Death Penalty Study Challenges Stereotype," Dallas Morning News, February 11, 2002; James S. Liebman et al., "A Broken System, Part II: Why There Is So Much Error in Capital Cases, and What Can Be Done About It," University of Columbia Law School, February 2002.


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